In light of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, six rappers look back at the decades they thrived in.
Interviews: Kemet High
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the Spring 2023 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Today marks 50 years since hip-hop was born. The genre has evolved massively since DJ Kool Herc’s Rec Room party in The Bronx on Aug. 11, 1973, which is widely regarded as the day hip-hop first showed signs of life.
From there, the four pillars of DJing, MCing, breakdancing and graffiti began to bloom under the umbrella of rap as forms of expression. And over the last six decades, those early foundations have helped grow hip-hop into being a global phenomenon.
Back in the late 1970s, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were one of the first groups to push the needle forward. One of rap’s founding fathers, Melle Mel, was a lead vocalist and songwriter of the group. With most people being intrigued by the musical breath of fresh air at that time, folks like MC Shan became a force in the 1980s. He’s defined today as the pure embodiment of the b-boy archetype.
In the 1990s, groups like the Wu-Tang Clan took the genre to unforeseen heights. Thanks to the lo-fi production prowess and lyrical swordsmanship of people like RZA, that time is touted by many fans as the golden age. That set the stage for acts like Lupe Fiasco to thrive in the 2000s, a time that made versatility a necessity rather than a choice.
By the 2010s, few genres eclipsed the impact of rap music. That notion was proven via the success of artists like B.o.B, who succeeded on a commercial level those years. In the 2020s, rappers like Cordae, who stylistically blends new and old-school skill sets, have followed in those footsteps in a time where delicacy is dominant.
Hip-hop has plenty of archived history. With that in mind and in celebration of 50 years, Melle Mel, MC Shan, RZA, Lupe Fiasco, B.o.B and Cordae look back at what it was like to be a rapper in each decade.
See RZA, Cordae, Lupe Fiasco, Melle Mel, B.o.B and MC Shan Speak on 50 Years of Hip-Hop
Check out additional interviews in XXL magazine’s spring 2023 issue, including the cover story with Lil Durk, conversations with Coi Leray, Key Glock, Joyner Lucas, Fridayy, Luh Tyler, Lola Brooke, Destroy Lonely, Blxst, Curren$y, Finesse2tymes, Vic Mensa, Toosii, DJ Drama and actor Tyler Lepley, plus a look at how famed hip-hop attorney Bradford Cohen helps clients like Drake and Kodak Black beat their cases, veteran photographer Johnny Nuñez tells the behind-the-scenes stories of 10 of his iconic hip-hop photos and six rappers from six different eras—Melle Mel, MC Shan, RZA, Lupe Fiasco, B.o.B and Cordae—discuss the change in hip-hop over 50 years.